5 Hawaiian Medicinal Plants

September 6, 2021 0

Throughout history, native Hawaiian healers have conventionally used medicinal herbs for many purposes. The application of herbs differentiated according to which tribes were using them. Over time, these herbs were recognized for many other benefits beyond their medicinal properties. Hawai‘i is viewed throughout the world as a place of rest and rejuvenation. This is a concept that is deeply rooted in and supported by the healing environment of our islands. Ancestral wellness wisdom is the basis of the natural health movement in Hawaii. Here are 5 Hawaiian medicinal plants for you to know about.

What is herbal medicine?

Traditionally, herbal medicine works to aid, restore, and harmonize opposing forces of energy. This is usually accomplished through a combination of plant elements, however, throughout herbal medical history, animal by-products and minerals have also been combined.

The term “herbs” can refer to many different things in medicine (roots, flowers, leaves, stems, bark, seeds and even stones)!  These are all therapeutic parts of plants which have natural healing properties and can promote wellbeing in both the body and mind in their own ways. Herbal medicine is an incredibly unique system with hundreds of individual herbs. Each has their own properties or functions. Individual herbs can definitely be used on their own, but they’re more often combined into formulas to enhance their unique healing qualities and target specific medical conditions.

Medicinal herbs come in many forms. For internal use, traditionally, raw herbs are boiled, simmered and consumed as a tea. Today, to avoid the often bitter taste of herbal concoctions, herbs also come in powdered form and as capsules, tinctures and tablets. For topical use, herbs are formulated into a cream, lotion or salve.

Hawaiian medicinal herbs

1. Noni

The Noni is a traditional Hawaiian medicinal herb that grows between 10-20 feet tall. This plant has shiny dark green leaves that are deeply veined and used for topical treatments in skin infections and tumors. The traditional healers soften these leaves and on cooling, apply it to the affected areas of skin. The fruit of the Noni is well known for its distinctive cheese-like flavor. When it’s mixed with ginger or orange juice, it can be very effective in curing severe ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Noni has a strong and pungent rotting-like smell. It has been conventionally used as a famine food and a healthy concoction for curing gastrointestinal diseases as well.

2. Kava

Also known as Kava-Kava or awa, this herb is traditionally consumed as a beverage that causes a slight loss of muscle control with a  euphoric feeling. The mind remains clear and the people using this herb do not lose self-control. Kava has pain-relieving properties that can reduce headaches and back pains.

Traditionally, Kava was consumed as a ceremonial beverage or a medicinal potion in Hawaii. The modern preparations of this herb include powdered Kava available in the form of capsules. To make Kava tea, firstly, the Kava roots are pounded in a pot and the crushed parts are soaked in water. Secondly, the active ingredients are extracted and enjoyed warm or cooled after straining. They include lactones that are mildly psychoactive. There are many strains of kava found in Hawaii that were brought to this region by the Polynesian sailors. The most popular ones are Purple moi, Hiwa, Mahakea, and Nene varieties. Kava is mostly found in shady places in the tropics.


3. ‘Awapuhi Kuahiwi—Ginger

The ginger plant is commonly found in humid, shaded forests on the main Hawaiian Islands.

This plant is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Awapuhi kuahiwi–also known as shampoo ginger—is used as a compress for sores, cuts and bruises. Most importantly, it is also used to treat toothaches, achy joints, sprains, stomachaches, headaches, ringworm, and other skin diseases. The rhizomes are pounded together with pa‘akai (Hawaiian sea salt), placed on a young frond, squeezed, and the liquid ingested. The pulverized residue can be applied as a compress to treat headaches.

Hawaiian medicinal herbs


4. Kō—Sugarcane

The sweet sugarcane stalk was chewed to strengthen and clean teeth and gums. Kō juice was mixed with medicine to make it more palatable. Young leaf buds mixed with kowali pehu (Ipomoea alba), the tropical white morning glory, and salt are used for treating deep cuts, wounds and compound fractures.

Hawaiian medicinal herbs

5. ‘Olena-Turmeric

Also called as Curcuma Longa, this wonderful medicinal herb is known for its strong anti-inflammatory properties. The traditional Hawaiian healers used turmeric topically for skin rashes and sores. When mixed with honey and herbs, it also helps in curing coughs or sore throats. It is believed that original Polynesian settlers brought this herb to Hawaii when they arrived here in the sixth century. Since it was carried in their canoes, it is one among the canoe plant. In the native Hawaiian language, ‘Olena means yellow. It was also traditionally used as a dye for clothes. It is closely related to the ginger family and similarly has a thick rootstock or rhizome that is used for making juice or powdered medicine. Turmeric is effective for inflammation and sinus problems.

Hawaiian medicinal herbs

We are in no means doctors of any kind. However, we thought it would be interesting to teach you about 5 Hawaiian medicinal plants that were used most frequently for healing. Moreover, nature is a powerful source, and can be used for good. I find it fascinating to know about the plants that surround you, especially when hiking in the rainforest and being outdoors.

In conclusion, being aware of nature’s medicine, may one day be useful. 🙂

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